Youth violence: a health problem

by Charley Bruce

Violent crime in Minneapolis is on the rise, and the age of the criminals has spurred city officials to action.

The City Council recently passed a measure to form a Youth Violence Prevention Steering Committee, which will develop plans to recognize youth violence as a public health problem.

The measure was sponsored by councilmen Cam Gordon, Ward 2, and Don Samuels, Ward 5. The measure will form a 15-member committee to draw up a plan to fight youth violent crime.

According to Minneapolis Police’s Uniform Crime Report for 2005, there were 216 people aged 18 to 24 arrested for aggravated assault, an increase from 187 in 2003, the next most recent year available.

Gordon said the initiative could save the public money by reducing costs involved in homicide investigations and trials.

The public cost of a homicide is estimated at $3 million.

Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support Commissioner Gretchen Musicant said solving youth violence can be looked at from different perspectives.

She said it can be seen from a criminal apprehension perspective, where police arrest offenders after crimes are committed.

Musicant said a public health perspective accentuates this approach by investing in a long-term solution to prevent crime.

“It’s not like it’s one or the other, it’s both,” she said.

Musicant said this summer’s increased murder rate brought the issue to her attention.

Youths she talked to while developing the committee pointed to hopelessness, a need to support siblings because of family strife and not feeling valued by the community as causes for violence.

Michael Friedman, executive director of the Legal Rights Center, Inc., said youth crime shouldn’t be looked at like all other crime.

He’s seen research showing a connection between childhood traumas and how they delay their understanding of long-term and short-term gains, possibly explaining some youth criminal behavior.

UMPD statistics list 10 aggravated assaults reported on campus from January to September of this year, up from six and two in the same periods of 2005 and 2004, respectively. These figures do not include assaults in surrounding neighborhoods.

Students on the University campus and in Dinkytown said they would welcome safer streets.

Chelsea Tieszen, a biochemistry and genetics senior, doesn’t feel safe in the campus and Dinkytown areas.

“I’m not necessarily scared of (crime), but it’s something I’m aware of,” she said.

Tieszen said as a woman, crime is something she pays attention to.

Ben Clauson, a communication studies senior, wasn’t worried about walking around the area at night. He usually sticks with a group of people at night.

“I just think you have to be aware of your surroundings,” he said.

Kinesiology senior Lydia Royter said she is a little worried and doesn’t feel safe around Dinkytown alone at night, especially after hearing about beatings around campus.